In our Vietnamese & Thai cooking classes, this is THE sauce I need to stop my clients from drinking by the bowl. Also, this is THE sauce you will never see me run out of. This is THE sauce you will find in every single Vietnamese household and restaurant. Introducing the Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham) with endless possibilities!
The sweet, sour, tangy fusion that's simply irresistible on anything it tops, starting from fried spring rolls, summer rolls, dumplings, bun cha... to fried rice and rice vermicelli salad.
In a mortar, grind garlic and chilies with sugar to form a paste. Add lime juice and vinegar, stir until sugar dissolves. [Tip 4]
Add fish sauce to season. Be mindful of varying sodium levels in different fish sauces. Begin with 80% of the total quantity and adjust to taste.
Chill for 30-60 minutes before serving, allowing flavors to meld. Store in the fridge for up to 10 days.
[Tip 1] For a low-carb version, use the same amount of Xylitol.
[Tip 2] For the best outcome, use freshly squeezed lime juice. Fresh lemon juice works too, but lime imparts a more refreshing, exotic, and invigorating flavor.
[Tip 3] The quality of fish sauce is crucial in this recipe. Traditionally, it's made from fermenting salt and fish exclusively. Good fish sauce is labeled with an N number (e.g., 18°N, 35°N), representing the % of nitrogen (protein). This indicates its richness and flavor depth. For example, 18°N contains at least 18% protein, while 35°N has at least 35%. Higher numbers signify premium quality and a higher price. Use 18°N for everyday cooking and dipping, and 35°N or higher for pure dipping. In South Africa, 35°N fish sauce is the top-quality choice.
[Tip 4] This is the traditional Vietnamese method. You can finely chop all the aromatics instead of pounding. However, pounding fresh aromatics just before using them intensifies their flavors, requiring less quantity for a greater impact. Additionally, adding vinegar and lime juice mellows the garlic's pungency during cooking.